FORMER Antrim footballer Anto Finnegan has passed away at the age of 48 following his battle with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
The Saffron legend, who played his club football for St Paul's in Belfast, was diagnosed with the disease in 2012.
Following his diagnosis, he set up the organisation DeterMND to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for the MND Association.
'A true Gael'
Paying tribute, former Mayor of Derry & Strabane, Maolíosa McHugh, described Finnegan as 'a warrior'.
"I am very saddened to hear of the death of Anto Finnegan," the MLA for West Tyrone posted on Twitter.
"A true Gael, warrior & gentleman through & through. My thoughts & prayers are with his family.
"We just don't know what is around the corner for any of us & should appreciate each day as it comes. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."
Meanwhile Finnegan's club St Paul's said the world had lost 'a fine man'.
"It is with the upmost sadness that we learn of the passing of our friend, former player, coach, mentor & ambassador Anto Finnegan," they wrote.
"This world has lost a fine man. Our deepest sympathies to Alison, Conall, Ava & the Finnegan & Dowdall families. Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam uasal."
John Finucane, Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast, praised the legacy Finnegan left behind.
"Anto Finnegan was strength and courage personified, throughout his battle with MND he refused to let the illness get him down and put his efforts into setting up deterMND," said the former Lord Mayor of Belfast.
"Through deterMND, Anto in conjunction with the local community organised a countless number of awareness raising events around Motor Neurone Disease.
"I had the pleasure of playing both with Anto for Antrim and against him at club level, he was an exceptional player that always brought the very best out of those around him.
"Anto is an inspiration who’s legacy will live on."
Having set up DeterMND, Finnegan organised events to raise awareness of MND and to fund research into the disease.
These included the Run for Anto and the 2014 Match for Anto, which saw Jim Gavin's Dublin take on an Ulster Select side managed by Joe Kernan and Brian McEniff.
In his playing days, Finnegan helped Antrim end a 19-year wait for an Ulster SFC win, captaining the Saffrons as they defeated Down at Casement Park in 2000.
The Saffrons almost edged Derry in the semi-final only to he held to a draw, with the Oak Leafers winning the replay.
Former Derry forward Paddy Bradley was among those who also paid tribute to Finnegan.
Just received a text that has brought a tear to the eye. So sorry to hear about the passing of Anto Finnegan...christ he marked me in the early 00's in those epic battles in casement. He battled right to end. A top top gael. Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam
— Paddy Bradley (@PaddyB14) September 18, 2021
West Belfast and Antrim and the GAA community has lost a hero and an inspirational man in Anto Finnegan. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. pic.twitter.com/OHrD19aLRD
— Rónán McHugh (@silomchugh) September 18, 2021
‘Enjoy life to the fullest, every day is a blessing’ - the inspirational Anto Finnegan after his Falls Park ‘Run for Anto’ event attracted 1000 people, including Jim Gavin. We will be paying a full tribute on today’s Live Stream from the All Ireland Camogie Minor Final. RIP Anto. pic.twitter.com/biPaAMb03l
— Jerome Quinn (@JeromeQuinn) September 19, 2021
It is with great sadness we learn of the passing of Anto Finnegan.
Before illness he demonstrated the values of a true gentleman and friend, during illness he rose taller inspiring many through his determination to fight, fundraise and raise awareness of the MND.
RIP Anto pic.twitter.com/Y5T29Hznt4
— Lámh Dhearg CLG (@lamhdheargclg) September 19, 2021
Anto Finnegan was an inspirational Antrim Gael.
Anto made the rest of us feel big. He personified such great resilience & determination.
I am very sad for his clann, cairde & club.
Codladh sámh a hAntóin. Ní dhéanfar dearmad ort. https://t.co/aFfRO5EPN6
— Declan Kearney (@DeclanKearneySF) September 18, 2021
Sad to hear of the passing of former Antrim captain Anto Finnegan. Anto was a wonderful ambassador for our game on and off the pitch. His warrior spirit was in plain sight over many years during his determined battle with illness.
I measc na naomh go raibh sé. pic.twitter.com/9zjV0TXbZT
— Justin McNulty (@JustinMcNu1ty) September 19, 2021
My deepest sympathies to the family & close friends of Anto Finnegan. A wonderful and kind man whose company I greatly enjoyed. Rest In Peace Anto. @StPaulsGAC
— Marty Morrissey (@MartyM_RTE) September 19, 2021